With This Body, I Create Life

 Reflections on a post-baby body after 4 pregnancies. Read more at www.hollandlanemag.com .

Words by Destiny Stillwagon // Images by Bobbi Jo Anderberg

I remember the day when I took my first home pregnancy test. It was positive. I was elated, nervous, and not even thinking about how this first pregnancy would change my body for the rest of my life. I was 22 years old. 

When I started to show, I spotted my very first stretch mark. My first, cute little stretch mark. Then another popped up shortly afterward, then another. Before I knew it, I felt as big as a house and lost count of my cute, little stretch marks. After delivering my first child, I was left with a very squishy belly along with the shrunken, not so cute stretch marks. I was already planning my post baby body exercise regimen, which of course is easier to write down than to actually follow through with. The plus side, my breasts grew a few cups sizes and looked beautiful, at least until I was done breastfeeding. Then they, along with their stretch marks, went back to their normal size. 

I went on to have two more children of my own. When my youngest child was six years old, I volunteered to become a surrogate mother for my friends that were unable to conceive and carry a child of their own. I was personally done having children for myself, but I thought since I had three previous healthy pregnancies, this surrogacy would be just as easy as the first three.

Nope. Not easy. I was 33 years old when I conceived the surrogate child, 34 years old when I delivered him. This was a six-year difference from my last pregnancy and I felt every year of that six years. I was also about fifteen to twenty pounds heavier than I wanted to be when I got pregnant. So here I was, six years older and twenty pounds overweight and still willing to carry this child for my friends. I already had the stretch marks and knew the pregnancy routine. What I did not account for was this child being the biggest out of the four pregnancies. I was watching what I ate, rubbed Palmer’s Cocoa Butter lotion on my belly daily, stretched, drank plenty of water, and slept more than usual. I was so big and so uncomfortable. I ended up giving birth to a ten-pound baby via C-section. 

After the surrogacy, I tried to lose more weight than what I had gained for that pregnancy. I tried getting rid of the stretch marks. I tried the spandex slimming waist control top shorts. I tried the breast lifting bras. I gave up pop. I did a lot of walking. Nothing seemed to help me regain what I thought a decent body looked like. I fell into a mild depression over this. I thought this was the body I was just meant to have from here on out: flabby belly and stretch marks, back fat and double chin. Crying does not burn calories as it turns out. 

Many months later, I moved to Vermont and started a new life which came with new jobs where I was on my feet a lot. This is what helped me dropped most of the weight. I was still stuck with my flabby belly and stretch marks, though. A few months into this new life, something changed for me. I was noticing a lot of women here in Vermont were content in their bodies. They didn’t care if they had hairy armpits or a little baby belly pooch or sagging breasts. They loved who they were and embraced what they looked like. They embraced their life and the lives they created. 

My thoughts started filtering the negative from the positive a lot more and soon the negativity that I surrounded my body in was dwindling. I would stare at my body in the mirror more but instead of being disgusted, I ended up proud. Proud of every single stretch mark because it was with this body that I made life, not once but four times. Four little humans exist because of my body. I earned every stretch mark and pound and I was finally content with myself…mind, body, and soul.

Be proud of your body in every stage of your life. Embrace the changes. You make the world a better place, even with stretch marks. 

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Destiny Stillwagon, 38, is a mother of three, soon to be four, as she is engaged to be married this fall and will be gaining a stepdaughter. She currently resides in Jamaica, Vermont.